Category : Textiles
Date : May 11, 2013

My grandmother stored her extra quilts in the attic, folded, with the plain side facing out, stacked almost to the ceiling on top of an old trunk.  As a child, I sneaked upstairs and unfolded each quilt, reveling in the combination of  the vibrant textiles and intricate designs. I have always thought that I “leanrt” color theory and patterning from staring at her exquisitely stitched quilts. We slept underneath starbursts, double wedding rings and simple ladder patterns.

basket quilt circa 1860

basket quilt circa 1860

So, it was a lucky happenstance that I found “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts at the Brooklyn Museum.  The wall text states:

The divisive Civil War (1861-1865), followed by the country’s Centennial and rapid changes introduced by emancipation and industrialization produced a nostalgic longing in the late nineteenth century for all things “olde tyme.”  The resulting Colonial Revival lasted from the 1860 through the early twentieth century and celebrated the founding fathers’ ways of life   ……Quilts were embraced by women as emblematic of this simpler, bygone era, and of their idealized colonial foremothers creating beauty from the wilderness.

Contemporary scholarship, however, has found that colonial period quilts are rare and were generally owned by elite families and stitched from expensive imported fabric.  It was the Colonial Revival itself that first made quilts a popular, quintessentially American endeavor, encouraging middle-class women to take it up as a hobby.


touching stars quilt circa 1850

touching stars quilt circa 1850

Ironically, my grandmother hung her quilt frame from the kitchen ceiling and lowered it when she needed to work, and upon it she pieced irresistible patchworks to keep her family warm.  I am lucky to have a few of her works and use them, continually amazed by patterns, forms and colors.

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